The recent discovery by McCann Plumbing of the old cold storage cave of the Kansas Brewing Company will certainly spike interest once again in not only the curiosity of underground Leavenworth but the early Leavenworth breweries.
Some old newspaper articles claim that Leavenworth, as a young city, had eight breweries. The articles assert that the first brewery was constructed in the fall of 1855 and operated by Fritzer & Mundee. It was situated along the bank of the Missouri River near South Esplanade. The second brewery was thought to have been on the south bank of Three-Mile Creek on Fourth Street, and known as the Kunz brewery. However, Cindy Higgins, author of “Kansas Breweries and Beer: 1854-1911”, contends that these accounts plus information contained in H. Miles Moore’s “Early History of Leavenworth City and County” appear to be inaccurate in their dates of operation when compared to city directories, Sanborn maps, census reports and local histories including J.H. Johnston’s “Leavenworth Beginning to Bicentennial.” Through her extensive research on early Leavenworth breweries, Higgins has concluded that the first brewery was actually begun by John Grund. Despite conflicting historical accounts, the discovery of John Grund’s brewery caves is thought provoking.
The John Grund Brewery, also known as the Kansas Brewery, was located at the corner of Delaware and Sixth, in downtown Leavenworth, where Chickering Hall later stood and today is the Robert D. Beal Law Building. The John Grund history is an interesting one. Grund had come to Leavenworth from Germany in 1855. Early Leavenworth news articles noted that the first boy born in the city of Leavenworth was the result of a Leavenworth romance between John Grund and Miss Eliza A. Tenell who had met in the new community. The couple was one of the best liked and most popular of young people and were married January 18, 1856. Their first born son was considered the first boy born of “Leavenworth parents.” (Not to be confused with Cora Leavenworth Keller who holds the distinction of being the first female child born and George C. Robertson, the first male child—both of whose parents had both emigrated to Leavenworth City.) [Pictured above, John Grund from the LCHS files.]
Henry Foot, a wealthy Leavenworth capitalist, joined with John C. Grund to construct a two-story brick building for the brewery. Underneath the entire building was a large cellar and beneath that, a sub-cellar for storing beer in reservoirs and huge tanks from which the beer could be drawn off into barrels. It is said that the best masonry possible was used in the construction, with no expense spared. The brewery enjoyed a short-lived success, until it was discovered that the brew was not ripening properly in the storage caves and “did not retain the desired rich bouquet” after drawn for sale.
Despite attempted improvements, the brewery was finally abandoned and the partners started over by buying out the Cannon Brewery, owned by another German, Peter Schmidt, and located on a hill on Lawrence Avenue, south of Spruce street. On a tract of land on the opposite side of the avenue Grund erected a large stone 3-story building with basement and a cellar under the hill for storage of beer. At great expense, water was brought in through wooden pipes laid underground from the brewery to the springs at the foot of Pilot Knob Hill, more than a mile away. While it was considered the largest and most extensive brewery in the West, large sums of money had been borrowed from Lucien Scott, President of the First National Bank, to help finance the project. Coupled with the depression of 1859 and the start of the Civil War, the brewery was doomed. The Grund family was enumerated in the Kansas 1865 census in Leavenworth, along with six of their German brewers. However the brewery was abandoned in the late 1860s, with Grund eventually relocating to Boulder, then Denver in the 1870s. Foot moved to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. After a time, the brewery was dismantled and the remains left to deteriorate and crumble.
When John Grund died in 1904, his obituary recalled his glory days in Leavenworth and noted that the old brewery was one of the landmarks of the city, attracting interest with stories of the inhabitation of the old caves and storage rooms by imaginary ghosts that circulated among the superstitious and believed by many. For a time the old structure was a mecca of the curious. Grund’s body was brought back to Leavenworth, to be buried next to his wife at Mt. Muncie Cemetery.
Despite their lobby against it, Kansas breweries were eventually closed down in the years following the passage of statewide prohibition in 1880. Cindy Higgins notes that the last Kansas brewery to close after state prohibition was in Leavenworth. “After the Brandon Kirmeyer brewery officially closed in 1888, John Brandon found a new brewing partner in George Beal, son-in-law of John Walruff, the Lawrence brewer. They set up a larger brewery complex on Kickapoo Street in Leavenworth that operated until 1911.”